Celtic Nation 1 Darlington 2

Darlington restored their seven –point lead at the top of the Ebac Northern League as they showed impressive battling qualities to come back from a half-time deficit at Celtic Nation today.

Playing on a heavy pitch that had suffered from a lot of wet weather, Martin Gray’s men were 1-0 down at the break despite creating a glut of chances.

But two goals in the second period including a late Stephen Thompson penalty continued Darlington’s trend for doing their best work in the second half of games and got Quakers back on track.

Having lost at West Auckland seven days ago, Gray was keen that his side returned to winning ways at the first opportunity, especially with second-placed Spennymoor Town playing in the FA Vase today.

He made ten changes to the side that lost the midweek in the Northern League Cup to Moors, with only Darren Richardson keeping his place, but Celtic took the lead, Michael Reed meeting a right-wing cross on 13 minutes.

The striker’s goal meant that Quakers have conceded in 11 successive matches, having failed to keep a clean sheet since their win at Dunston on September 22.

Darlington swiftly fought back, however, continually carving up the Celtic Nation and creating chance after chance, against a side undefated in their previous six league and cup games, among them a 1-1 draw with Spennymoor. 

Yet all of Quakers' opportunities went begging.

Thompson screwed a shot wide in the 21st minute not long after he had been felled with a strong shoulder barge in the penalty area by David Wallace. But the referee reckoned it to be a fair challenge.

The most clear chance of the half fell to David Dowson who was one on one with keeper Ryan Smith in a central position. The Darlington striker steadied himself before pulling the trigger, but the shot was far too close to Smith, leaving a frustrated Dowson to punch the ground in frustration.

A rare attack by the hosts saw a Dean Douglas snap-shot, after being teed up by Reed, saved by Craig Turns, but Darlington were soon back on the attack.

Craig Gott, playing at right-back in the absence of the injured Stephen Harrison, hoisted the ball into the area where Leon Scott headed over, and within a minutes Scott blasted the ball over from 18 yards.

Celtic’s defence included former Darlington right-back Paul Arnison and it held up well to intense pressure with Wallace blocking a Thompson blast after meeting a Dowson pull-back from the byline and then Gott saw Smith save a low free-kick.

Centre-back Joe Tait swung the ball in from the right-wing, but Dowson and Amar Purewal were inches away from getting a head to it.

Yet, for all of Darlington’s domination, there was a great chance for Celtic before the break when Reed’s flicked header was just off target after connecting with Douglas cross from the left and Quakers had Turns to thank soon after the restart.

He was quick off his line to clear the danger when Reed chased the ball after captain Gary Brown had inadvertently played the ball into the forward’s path, though Brown otherwise enjoyed another excellent performance.

Within seconds Darlington had levelled, Dowson firing home from 12 yards with a low shot on the turn.

The goal had been coming and was entirely justified, but it sparked Celtic into life.

They made a fight of it and although Turns had few saves to make, Darlington knew they were in a game as their supremacy faded away for a period.

Left-back Jeff Smith, another former Quakers player, curled a free-kick just wide, though at the other end Darlington’s Amar Purewal was guilty of a miss when he met Dowson’s neat centre, the winger blazing over the bar.

Darlington’s attacks became more frequent as they sought a winning goal. Arnison blocked Thompson’s shot on the turn inside the penalty area while, after Butler fouled on the Darlington striker, Tait’s free-kick deflected off the top of the wall into the keeper’s hands.

Finally the goal they craved came on 83 minutes, though there was an element of surprise.

Referee M Edwards pointed to the spot when Wallace was punished for a push on Purewal, leaving Thompson to net Darlington’s eighth penalty of the season.

He also scored from the spot in last week’s loss at West Auckland, when Darlington’s run of 13 successive wins came to an end. They hope that today’s win marks the beginning of a new winning streak.

Darlington are at home to Billingham Synthonia on Wednesday and at Team Northumbria next Saturday.

Goals: Reed (13, 1-0); Dowson (52, 1-1); Thompson (83, 2-1)

Bookings: Scott (62, foul), Tait (64, dissent), Brown (67, foul); Arnison (73, foul), Butler (75, foul); Wallace (83, foul), Hopper (86, foul)

Referee: M Edwards

Attendance: 304

Celtic Nation: Smith, Arnison, Smith, Wallace, Butler (Lee 88), Hopper, Wilson, Skinner (Lynn 79), Reed, Archibald (Porritt 70), Douglas. Subs (not used): Milburn, Hoolickin

Darlington: Turns, Gott, Brown, Tait, Smith, Nicholls (Emms 61), Keltie, Scott, Amar Purewal, Dowson (Richardson 90), Thompson (Reay 88). Subs (not used): Norton, Read